EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part ten of that series. - KL
Ken Keltner was one of the best defensive third basemen of his time. He led the AL in fielding percentage twice, assists four times and putouts once. His defensive brilliance was directly responsible for breaking up Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak on July 17, 1941-Keltner made two spectacular back-handed, diving stops to rob the Yankee Clipper of hits.
Keltner's accomplished career on offense and defense earns him the distinction as Wisconsin's best October-born player. Born October 31, 1916 in Milwaukee, Keltner hit .310 with 27 homers playing for the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1937. He impressed enough to make the Indians the next season as a 21-year-old rookie, and he came through with a .276 average with 26 homers and 113 RBI.
A seven-time All-Star, "Butch" Keltner received MVP votes in five seasons, retiring with 1,570 hits, 163 home runs and a .276 average. His career OPS+ of 112 is the same as Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and George Kell and better than Hall of Fame third basemen Fred Lindstrom (110), Pie Traynor (107) and Brooks Robinson (104).
His best season was his last year as a regular, 1948, when he batted .297 and set career highs with 31 homers, 119 RBI, 91 runs scored and a line of .395/.522/.917. Furthermore, it was his three-run homer that led the Indians to victory over the Red Sox in a playoff to decide the pennant that year. The Indians would go on to win the World Series-they haven't won one since.
Keltner is edged out slightly by Lave Cross as Wisconsin's all-time best third baseman. With the two pretty equal in fielding ability and with Keltner's slight edge in batting ability cancelled out by Cross greater compiling of batting stats, the deciding factor was longevity-Cross played 21 seasons to 13 for Keltner (10 with significant playing time).
Four players received additional consideration for Wisconsin's best October-born player. Tony Kubek (born Oct. 12, 1935 in Milwaukee) was named to All-Star teams in three years with the Yankees, helping the team win six pennants and three championships during his nine seasons. He ranks as the second-best Wisconsin-born shortstop after Harvey Kuenn. An outstanding fielder, he was Rookie of the Year in 1957. The Yankees collapsed in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates when Kubek had to leave the game after being struck in the throat by a ground ball. Forced to retire at age 29 due to chronic neck and back pain, Kubek moved on to a successful broadcast career.
Walt Wilmot (born Oct. 18, 1863 in Plover) was a 19th century outfielder who led the league in homers with 13 for the Chicago Colts in 1890. He also led the NL with 19 triples in 1889 and is credited with 383 career stolen bases under the rules of the day. He received honorable mention status for the All-Time Wisconsin team in Baseball State by State.
Catcher Damian Miller (born Oct. 13, 1969 in La Crosse) was with the Diamondbacks when they won the 2001 World Series over the Yankees despite the fact that he batted .190 and struck out 11 times in 21 at-bats in the Series, perhaps channeling his inner Bob Uecker. Overlooking his weak performance that postseason, Miller gets selected as the all-time catcher for Team Wisconsin. Miller collected 834 hits playing from 1997-2007, playing his last three years for the Brewers. He made the All-Star team for Arizona in 2002, even though his average was just .249 that season. He had some pop in his bat, hitting 87 homers and batting .262 lifetime. Miller was an above-average fielder, leading NL catchers in putouts and assists in 2001 and in fielding percentage two times.
Brad Radke (born Oct. 27, 1972 in Eau Claire) ranks as the fourth-best righty starter in Wisconsin history after Hall of Famers Kid Nichols, Burleigh Grimes and Addie Joss. Radke, who spent his entire 12-year career with the Minnesota Twins, finished third in the Cy Young voting in 1997 after winning 20 games. He made his only All-Star team the next season despite a 12-14 record. He posted double-figure win totals in 10 of his 12 seasons (winning nine games in each of the other two seasons) and finished with a career record of 148-139.
Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.